Time To Heal: Rwanda Finally Closes Its Controversial Genocide Tribunals

After 10 years and about two million sentences, the tribunals overseeing genocide prosecutions have finally closed. Many Rwandans feel more relieved than reconciled.

Gacaca courts (Elisa Finocchiaro)
Gacaca courts (Elisa Finocchiaro)
Albert-Baudoin Twizeyimana

KIGALI - Nearly a million people were killed in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide of ethnic Tutsi minorities and moderate Hutus. A decade ago community-based "Gacaca" tribunals were set up to oversee genocide prosecutions, with the hopes that it could achieve both justice and some measure of national reconciliation. With the closing of the last of these special genocide tribunals this month, the process has received notably mixed reviews.

Gacaca courts are a Rwandan tradition: an informal tribunal to address village or familial disputes. Gacaca (pronounced gatchatcha) means "soft grass," symbolic for a meeting place. These special courts have handed out some two million sentences over the past 10 years.

On June 18, the last Gacaca tribunals pertaining to the genocide were finally closed. "It was a sigh of relief for judges, suspects and their families, as well as genocide survivors," admits a human rights activist in the Rwandan capital Kigali. "It's time to move on and focus on development. Though the Gacacas helped convict those responsible for the genocide, they also held back the work of the civil society."

The trials also maintained an atmosphere of fear among the population. "Fear of being wrongfully accused or having to testify held back the socio-economic development of the country," says a political analyst. The 12,000 courts across the country held trials at least one day a week. It was compulsory for people to testify and when verdicts came back on a weekday, offices, stores and markets had to close for people to attend sentencing.

About 65% of the accused, mostly those whose crimes were widely known and those who had been most violent, were given sentences ranging from a year to life in prison. Those who confessed their crimes were given reduced sentences. But trials weren't always fair, and judges were untrained civilians with no legal experience, mostly elders from the community. Several human rights groups like Lawyers Without Borders and the Danish Center for Human Rights deplored the fact that justice was handed down by popular courts. For them, people who face major sentences like life in prison should be guaranteed a fair trial.

"Made in Rwanda" justice

Thanks to the tribunals, survivors were able to find out what happened to their loved ones. But many of them, as well as prisoners' families "regret that trials favored those who confessed their role in the genocide, while innocents were unfairly and harshly sentenced," says a villager in eastern Rwanda. According to Human Rights Watch, there was no due process. Survivors were also often disappointed to see that sentences had been reduced or turned into community service.

The trials were marred by the fact that witnesses and judges were murdered, many Rwandans fled abroad, there were fights between survivors and the families of the accused.

Despite these failings, the government is proud of the Gacacas system. "It's a Rwandan solution to the very difficult Rwandan conflict that was the genocide," said President Paul Kagame.

Though the special courts are closing, the hunt for suspects continues. About 75,000 people who were convicted haven't served their sentence because they were tried in absentia or have since fled the country.

Read the original article in French

Photo - Elsa Finocchiaro

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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